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Robin Robinson - Citizen Columnist

Botanical Gardens, then and now

The Botanical Gardens on Stock Island were a product of FERA, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the 1934 agency charged with improving the destitute economic situation in the Keys. The population of Key West fell from 22,000 to 12,000 and half of those were unemployed. The spongers and cigar makers left. The 55 acres bought[…]

Convoluted, lobed and furled, red flame flowers delight

Celosia argentea var. cristata is commonly called crested cockscomb, velvet flower or wool flower. Originating in Africa, its Swahili name is mfungu. (That is not a typo.) In the Yoruba language, soko yokoto, means make husband fat and happy. It claims 13 other names. It has so many different names because it has spread all[…]

Vandas and dendrobiums are easy

Think of South American rain forests where orchids grow unaided by overzealous orchid lovers. Every morning in the rain forest, water gushes from the heavens. Then the air thickens with humidity and the skies fill with sunshine and strong winds. The wet orchids dry out, leaving no damp crooks or corners that attract funky fungi.[…]

Splendidly costumed crotons take center stage

Crotons enter the stage with a tease by opening with ordinary green leaves then do a costume change and emerge in the second act as different as a butterfly is from a caterpillar. Crotons are prized for their variegated and colorful leaves. Many have interesting shapes or twists that provide further visual intrigue. Like stage[…]

Fiddle-de-de-dee, let’s try some of the tea

Last year’s hurricane gave the Key West Garden Club an opportunity to purchase new sun-loving butterfly plants. Donna Farrow began doing research on what plants to buy that were native butterfly attractors. One gem she identified is a Florida and Caribbean native, the wooly tea bush (Melochia tormentosa) that attracts the Julia butterfly, birds and[…]

Mysterious virgin tree now identified

The Key West Garden Club has the most unusual tree potted in the entranceway. We could not identify it for a long time, but thanks to an excited and educated visitor, we now know its name, the rare Operculicarya decaryi, or elephant tree or jabily. It was discovered in Madagascar by Raymond Decary, a French[…]

The last gift from Pandora’s chest was hope

Greed, lies, anger, spite, fear and corruption swarm around in a collective broth of evil, but the last thing out of Pandora’s forbidden chest of vices was hope. In the middle of Africa, people are building a wall, a Great Green Wall. Eleven countries began cooperating in 2007 to plant more than 11 million trees[…]

Sniff a holiday tree – you’ll go fir

Cutting down a tree and bringing it into the living room is a bizarre habit that Americans engage in every December. For many, the fir creates nostalgic whiffs of years gone by, evoking memories of the winter seasons snow. That may be one reason that the odd custom prevails in the south, but another is[…]